A provincial government plan to cut overnight shifts for highways maintenance workers left the provincial trucking industry concerned road safety was being sacrificed to save a few bucks.
“You know what they do now, between here and Winnipeg, is close the highway,” said George Edwards, the Brandon terminal manager for Gardewine Group Inc. “They close it frequently and it was overnight when they would go out and clean. Now, they don’t even want to do that. That will have a huge effect on us in Brandon and on a lot of businesses too.”
The cuts affect the overnight plowing shift that runs between 11:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. for the Trans-Canada Highway as well as Highways 10 and 16 in Westman. Key routes in and around Winnipeg — Highways 6, 59, 75, 100 and 101 — will also be impacted.
A provincial spokesman said $2.3 million is expected to be saved. The government spokesman said there are contingency plans for major weather events, and that plows and sanding trucks will be deployed when required. The spokesman added that the government is looking for ways to deliver quality highway maintenance efficiently, and while there are cost-cutting measures, appropriate service levels will be in place.
That didn’t wash with Edwards.
“People won’t get their freight,” Edwards said. “If the roads are that bad, where they need to be cleaned, there will be a lot of people that don’t get their shipments. Our guys leave Brandon in the evening to go to Winnipeg. Say, around 10 p.m, the loads start moving back west to Brandon and throughout the night.”
The province’s move could also affect service workers in the transportation industry, such as warehouse workers, as they won’t have freight to move on or off of trailers roads are closed.
“If that stuff doesn’t arrive in Brandon, it doesn’t get unloaded,” English said. “If they won’t clean the highways, and if they close the highway between here and Winnipeg or here and Portage, and they won’t clean it, nothing will move. It depends on how bad the delays are, but it can last a couple of hours.”
Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer was also dismayed by the announcement, which came within days of the completion of major highway improvements on Highway 10 and 75.
“This is a government that campaigned on no tax increases and no cuts to services,” Helwer said. “They promised that and so far we have seen massive tax increases and cuts to services. The concerning part of this is it puts the travelling public at risk and people at risk by making those cuts. Is that what we want our government to do?”
Helwer said if there are delays in shipments or travel, “people will see effects in their everyday lives.”
Reached while travelling in Saskatchewan, Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell told the Sun he would respond to a request for comment later on Tuesday when he reached his destination. He did not respond by press time.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 10, 2012